It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers had a rough 2018-19 season. Between the multiple injuries, the failed trade for Anthony Davis, missing the playoffs and the abrupt exit of Magic Johnson, not everything was peachy in Hollywood.
Now, several weeks removed from the season Rajon Rondo is opening up about what it was like to be at the center of it all.
Win against Warriors marked beginning of the end
On Christmas Day, the Lakers took down the Golden State Warriors, 127-101. The win represented a high point for the team, which still remained active in the playoff chase.
Speaking to Bleacher Report, Rondo said, "That was a big momentum game for us. It wasn't playoffs, but it was the biggest game of some guys' careers. Christmas game, against the champs, and guys stepped up.”
The win improved the Lakers’ record to 20-14, but at the cost of LeBron James who suffered a groin injury and would miss 17 straight games.
The Lakers would only win 17 more games between Christmas and the end of the season in April.
‘The person that you looked up to and idolized, doesn't want you’
In an attempt to pair another star with James and make the playoffs, the Lakers unsuccessfully tried trading for New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis, who wanted out of New Orleans.
The team sent a plethora of offers involving multiple pieces of their young core, veteran leadership and future draft picks.
The public ordeal led teammates to reportedly become distrustful of James and caused a rift in the locker room.
"Even some of the old guys were affected," Rondo said. He recalled sitting on the bench with an unnamed teammate against the Atlanta Hawks when the teammate became distraught over trade talks.
“The guy was cussing and talking bad about the situation during the game,” Rondo said. “I was like: 'Snap out of it. That shit is over with. We'll get through it. As vets, we have to move forward and not focus on what the young guys are focusing on. Set an example.'”
Rondo went on to describe how the very public trade talks affected the mindset of the team. “Each game you didn't know what the mentality was for those guys: 'Should I give my all to this organization that is about to trade me in two days?’”
James’ involvement in the trade talks coupled with sharing the same agent in Rich Paul with Davis also didn’t help.
“It's like you're playing with MJ, and then you get there, and it's like your mom and dad, or the person that you looked up to and idolized, doesn't want you,” He said. “And then to have that sitting in your gut, not knowing.”
Magic’s exit was a distraction
The Lakers woes continued on through the remainder of the season. Before the team’s regular season finale, Johnson abruptly stepped down as the team’s president of basketball operations.
Johnson cited concerns over tampering among his reasons for leaving. “I got a great life,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Damn I have a great life outside of this. What am I doing? You know, I have a beautiful life.’”
“I’m going to go back to that beautiful life,” He added. “I’m looking forward to it.”
While Johnson left to resume his “beautiful” life, the decision sent shockwaves throughout the Lakers locker room.
"We walked in, talked about it a little as a team, tried to focus on the game," Rondo said. "But it was such a distraction you really couldn't focus."
The Lakers would lose to the Portland Trail Blazers, 104-101, and with that ending their season.
While the season appeared chaotic on the outside, Rondo asserts that the team held it together as much as it could.
"Biggest market, biggest media, you know what you're coming into with LeBron James on the team," Rondo said. "To me it wasn't as crazy. The way things ended, the way Magic exited, maybe. Things happen. You learn. ... I think we held it together as best as possible."
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